News

Progress report released on basin social conditions

By Rodney Woods

A progress report has been released by the seven-member independent panel assessing the social and economic conditions in the Murray-Darling Basin.

The report shares a summary of what the panel has heard and seen to date as part of its consultation with basin communities.

The panel was appointed by the Federal Water Minister David Littleproud to better understand the lived experience of social and economic conditions in basin communities.

The progress report has summarised 11 emerging themes from basin communities dealing with issues such as drought, demographic change, commodity price changes and the biggest water reform in Australia’s history.

The panel met more than 750 people via 68 face-to-face meetings in 29 towns. The seven members have held 15 phone consultations, received 11 written submissions and more than 600 online survey responses.

Panel chair Robbie Sefton thanked communities for their honest and valuable input.

“The people we met were passionate, committed and proud of their rural and regional heritage and represent a broad cross-section of stakeholders,” Ms Sefton said.

“They shared their experiences, insights and perspectives through our face-to-face engagement sessions, online survey and written submissions.

“We appreciate their generosity, particularly given the challenges they are currently experiencing.

“These communities are dealing with a myriad of issues and while many are suffering and under stress, others were keen to share the benefits they are seeing from water reform.

“The impact of the drought, which has accelerated the decline in water availability, is without a doubt putting communities under immense pressure.

“We heard from people who said their communities are reporting that their physical and mental health and wellbeing are declining.

“Confidence among many people is low, resilience is challenged and anxiety is high.”

The progress report is the first key milestone for the panel. The final report will be provided to Mr Littleproud by April 30, 2020.

The emerging themes include:

● Basin communities are feeling the effects of significant pressure — some consider themselves to be at crisis point.
● Within the pressure, there are areas of optimism, growth and positivity.
● The benefits and impacts of water reform are uneven.
● Reduction in the consumptive pool of water is exacerbating the effects of drought and climate change.
● There are fears for the security of water for critical human needs.
● Trust in governments, agencies and markets is at a low point.
● Changes in water demand and availability are resulting in pronounced changes in land use, with consequences for other industries and regions.
● The benefits of environmental flows are not well understood or recognised.
● The lack of connecting infrastructure is further impeding economic development.
● Data and transparency in communication need to be improved.
● People living in rural and regional communities want real participation in decision-making.

To read the progress report, visit: www.basin-socio-economic.com.au/stay-informed/documents